By ACLU of Mississippi Youth Advocacy Coordinator, Constance Gordon

As I sit here on National Gay Straight Alliance Day and think about what my life would have been like with the existence of a Gay Straight Alliance, I wonder if "coming out" to my mom would have taken 21 years. More importantly, I wonder if "coming out" to myself would have taken 15. As a child you are in the hands of the adults who govern you and in Pike County Mississippi, our hands were strong, strict, and STRAIGHT.

My biggest concern was what was wrong with me. Why was I feeling these feelings? Who can I tell, even who can I ask? I didn't even know if I was gay. Just the thought of it made me cringe. I was afraid of being abandoned by my mother, being harassed by my classmates, I was even afraid of being that unlucky victim of a gay bashing gone too far. From abandonment to death, the odds seemed really against me on this one. I didn't even want to be gay!

This is when I needed that hero... like a "GSA Man" (or woman) to come and swoop me off my feet into the land of Gay Straight Alliance! To a safe space where I was free to feel how I felt, love who I liked, and express my feelings freely. Yeah, that didn't happen. I was "in the closet" for eight of the longest years of my life. One day a feeling came over me to where I didn't care anymore and I just had to embrace me. I decided the next time someone asked or insinuated about my sexuality, I was going to give it to them GAY, not straight. And I did just that.

My mother said she always knew and most of my family had a similar reaction when they heard the news. These were the people I loved and the people I respected and expected to protect me. They accepted me. I never thought it would have been as easy as opening my mouth.

A GSA may have empowered me to accept who I am, understand my sexuality, and understand the world and how it affected me much sooner. Gaining the knowledge, having the support, and being surrounded by like-minded youth and adults may have had me on a soapbox years ago! As I look back on my younger years, the lack of existence of an "out" gay person or a publicly recognized "gay friendly" establishment made it difficult to fathom wearing my sexuality on my sleeve (or even around my ankle). That's why I support the Gay Straight Alliance and am dedicated to making sure every LGBT youth has a safe space in Mississippi.

I wish I could go back in time and create a GSA in my school. Working with the ACLU of Mississippi Youth of Color Project has given me the opportunity to "time travel" and address long-term, deep rooted issues and extend assistance to LGBT youth in Mississippi who may need that little extra support on their journey. Every person deserves to feel accepted, each child deserves to feel protected, and no one should ever be neglected. Here's to the GSA's of America! I salute you!